The Most Effective Note-Taking Methods for Work

A notebook sits open with a fountain pen on it next to a laptop and two other notebooks.

If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that effective note-taking is important -- but it can sometimes be challenging.

We’ve been taking notes since our school days — but a fast-paced meeting or spontaneously gathering additional information for a project can leave us scrambling and wanting more from our unorganized and sparse notes. 

No fear! There are a bevy of ways to make sure you don’t forget any important details and you feel prepared for whatever step is next.

But first! There are a few things that you can do to make sure your notes are top-notch. Remember these things:

Basic tips for taking notes:

  • Be flexible in your methods. Everybody retains information differently, so don’t sweat if a technique that works for someone else doesn’t work for you. Just keep trying until you find a groove.
  • Hand write notes in a notebook. Not only does writing by hand actually help information stick better in your mind, you’ll avoid getting the many distractions available on a computer or phone.
  • Summarize big ideas. This will help you retain and contextualize the information, and make pinpointing specific details later on.
  • Make note of things you don’t understand so that you can go back to clarify or investigate further. Try highlighting details you want to know more about later on.
  • Read your notes soon after taking them. It’s an opportunity to notice if anything is missing while the meeting or conversation is still fresh in your mind.
  • Color code! Using different colors helps different sections stand out for easy reference later on. If you can’t color code while taking notes, go back and use a highlighter to indicate different sections.
  • Get a notebook you love! We suggest the Ink+Volt Hardcover Notebook. It’s versatile, stylish, and durable enough to travel with you anywhere.

We take notes in a variety of different situations, and sometimes your normal note-taking strategy isn’t as effective as you need it to be. To help you build your skills, we’ve outlined a few different note-taking methods that can help you take the best notes possible.

Whether you need to improve your general note-taking, or need to amp up your strategy for a particular meeting or event, try some of these options below. Think about what you need to get out of your note-taking, and remember that the best notes are all about clarity -- not about following a certain strategy perfectly. If something isn’t working for you, mix it up! Keep tweaking the method until it’s working for you.

The Cornell Method 

You may remember this note-taking strategy from college. On the left-hand side of the page you put keywords or big ideas, and then on the right side of the page, which is separated by a simple vertical line, you take detailed notes. At the bottom you write a summary or the big takeaway. 

It helped you learn the five biogeochemical cycles and it can help you in the office too! Even if you’re taking meeting notes on a new project or something that’s fairly familiar, you can use the Cornell Method to keep track of big ideas and the corresponding notes.

Why it works: You’re thinking about the big picture and the components all at the same time. Later on you’ll be able to go back to your notes and quickly scan the big stuff and the details. For more complex notes, this can be particularly helpful because you have to make sense of the content to create useful notes. 

The Mind Map Method 

Are you a visual learner? If so, this could be the best note-taking strategy for you. Here is how it works.

You start with a main idea in the middle of the page. You then draw branches that come out from that main bubble; each branch is for a subtopic, and beyond that you can include more specific notes that correspond to each subtopic.

While this method can be a little more time-consuming, it helps keep ideas really organized and easy to scan by topic. 

Creative brainstorm sessions can be filled with so much content and we’re all bound to get sidetracked at some point. If your conversation is veering away from topics that align with the main topic of your mind map, you can make a little list to the side to record the diversions to come back to later.

Why it works: There’s a lot of freedom with this strategy to make sure the notes are beneficial for you. Instead of writing every little thing down, you can divide the topic up into ways that make the most sense for you.

The Sentence Method 

There are some endeavors that are so complex that writing as many notes as possible is a must! The Sentence Method works like this: write information as you hear it or learn it, as abbreviated as necessary. This method can work really well if each line is a new note, so you can quickly scan down the list of concepts.

You’ll probably end up with several pages of notes, but sometimes it’s better to have too many notes than too few. If the document becomes too long or convoluted, you can type up these notes into a more structured, easy-to-read outline after the meeting.

Why it works: You can only retain so much information when a topic is brand new or you’re digesting a lot of details. Even really key details can fall through the cracks if you’re taking in too much. While this method may seem sort of unorganized, the goal here is to gather as much as you can so that you can organize it later. This is for details rather than big ideas.

The Charting Method

If you process information in a way that is very compartmentalized, notes that look more like a chart or table could be really helpful. You could organize it by putting a new subtopic in each row and different details or questions as the columns, whatever makes most sense. 

This type of note-taking is particularly analytical, so if you’re comparing a lot of topics or are separating fine details, this method seeks to organize a lot of information into a practical product.

Why it works: You’ll be able to pick out the exact details you need later on. If you don’t want to search through complex notes, this is a great option. It’ll take a bit of planning to complete, but is worth it in the end, especially if your meeting has a clear agenda so you’ll know in advance what categories you’ll be touching on so you can lay it out effectively.

Being able to take helpful and detailed notes is one of the best things we can do in our professional lives. Each project or assignment may call for some new strategy, so don’t be afraid to make your note-taking strategy work for you.

Are you ready to dive into a new notebook and take some notes now? You should be. You got this! 

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